Silver, William Egan & Sons, 'Tramway Cup'

12 Apr 2021

Silver: 'Tramway Cup', 1932, cup, (max): H 24.5 cm, hallmarked

Ref: UCCHS.1999.002 © University College Cork

Mether-style cup, mounted on a separate base. William Egan & Sons, Cork. Silver, 1932. University College Cork.

The Tramway Cup presented to Professor Alfred O'Rahilly, Registrar of UCC, in 1933 by some former tramway workers of Cork. This was in recognition of the part he played in securing compensation for the loss of their jobs when the Cork Electric Tramways and Lighting Company ceased operation on September 30 1931.


Maker: William Egan and Sons, Cork; hallmarked on body, date 1932. There are five punches. The hallmarks are Hibernia Seated, the Harp Crowned, date letter Q. On of the body of the cup stamp EGAN and CORK. The silver plate on the base is also stamped EGAN and CORK.

Inscription: “Presented to Professor O'Rahilly by the Cork Junior ex-Tramwaymen as a slight token of appreciation for valuable services rendered 1933”.

Maker’s label on top of base. The image of a tramway car is engraved on silver plate attached to front of base.

Dimensions: (max) H 24.5; cup: H 20, W 15.6; D 17.5; base: H 4.7, W 16.5, D 13.9. Weight: cup: 780g.

Provenance: Donated by Dr Ronán O'Rahilly (1921–2018) in 1999. Dr O’Rahilly was son of Dr Alfred O’Rahilly, former Professor of Mathematical Physics, Registrar and President of UCC.



Early electricity generation

The Cork Electric Tramways and Lighting Company, was a subsidiary of British Thomson-Houston (BTH), and, as well as providing a tram system for Cork, was also a major electrical contracting company supplying electrical power in the city. The power station at Albert Road was built by the Cork builder Edward Fitzgerald (later Sir Edward Fitzgerald) and the electrical engineer employed by BTH for the system was the English-born electrical engineer Charles Hesterman Merz (1874–1940). Merz, during his time in Cork, met William McLellan and they set up a consulting business together in Newcastle. Merz became known as the ‘Grid King’ due to his expertise in designing electricity supply systems. 

The tramway generating station was at Albert Road, which now houses the National Sculpture Factory, and the tram shed was adjacent – complete with inspection and service pits – some of which is still intact and in use as a commercial premises. A detailed technical description of the system, including photographs, is available in the Street Railway Review (published in Chicago) of January 1899.

The tramway network 

The contractor for the permanent way element of the business was William Martin Murphy (1845–1919) who later became chairman of the company. The gauge of the tramway was 900 mm (2 ft 11 7⁄16 in) gauge, selected to allow for the possibility of trains from the 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge Cork and Muskerry Light Railway and the Cork, Blackrock and Passage Railway, to connect using the tram lines. The company ordered the first 18 tramcars from Brush of Loughborough in 1898. Subsequent orders of 11 in 1900 and 6 in 1901 took the fleet to a maximum of 35. The livery was bright green and cream.

The three cross city routes radiated out from the Fr Theobald Mathew statue on Patrick’s Street and ran from Blackpool to Douglas; Summerhill to Sunday’s Well; and Tivoli to Blackrock. The track was double through the main streets, up Summerhill and along part of the Western Road, and short stretches of other routes. On the rest it was single with fairly frequent passing loops.

The trams, powered by overhead electrical cables, began trial runs in early December 1898 and the system was officially opened on 22 December 1898. The company initially had 17 cars in operation. Over the Christmas period, weekend traffic was heavy and there were some minor accidents and injuries, including some passengers who, having been celebrating Christmas, fell from the tramcars. The trams soon became an integral feature of Cork life, whether transporting families from the city to the 'seaside' at Blackrock or bringing hurling enthusiasts to matches at the old Cork Athletic Grounds. A number of Cork writers, including Frank O'Connor, refer to the trams in their works.


The Cork Electric Tramway Company announced the closure of the service in January 1931 (Evening Echo, 16/1/1931). Of the employees, 110 were drivers, inspectors and conductors. The remainder were mostly engaged in permanent way work. It was planned that the service would finish on 31 March 1931 and crowds turned out to bid them farewell. After some days, however, it was clear that the Irish Omnibus Company did not have enough buses to cope with the demand and the trams began running again in early April. The stay of execution was only temporary and the last trams in Cork ran on 30 September 1931.

The trams had fallen victim to a combination of the increasing popularity of bus services operated by The Irish Omnibus Company, and the takeover of the company’s electricity plant by the Irish Electricity Supply Board (under the Electricity Supply Act, 1927). Some of the former employees found work with the ESB, the Irish Omnibus Company and elsewhere but that left many who were unemployed.  In order to compensate the former tramwaymen who were put out of work, the Cork Tramways (Employees’ Compensation) Act was passed in August 1933.

“Under the terms of the Cork Tramways (Employees' Compensation) Act, 1933, provision was made for the payment of compensation to certain former employees of the Cork Electric Supply Co., Ltd., who had been disemployed since the date on which the Cork City Tramway service was discontinued. The Act provided for payment in equal moieties by the Cork Corporation and the Board of the total liability involved, and for the establishment of a Committee, which was styled the Cork Tramways (Employees' Compensation) Advisory Committee, to investigate and report on all claims received. The Committee, which consisted of a Chairman appointed by the Minister with a nominee of the Corporation and of the Board, respectively, dealt with all the claims submitted.” (Seventh annual report of the Electricity Supply Board, year ended 31st March, 1934, p.13).

The amount of compensation paid in total to the former employees was £39,469 19s. 5d. (Saorstát Éireann, Appropriation Accounts 1933-34). However, under the terms of the 1933 Act mentioned above, those who had not been employed continuously for 12 years by the date specified in the act, were not entitled to any benefit. This included many young men and casual employees, hence the reference to the 'Cork Junior ex-Tramwaymen' on the cup. The amount of compensation was apparently a month’s salary for each year of service.

An advertisement appeared in the Cork Examiner in September 1933 advising that applications could be made for compensation under the 1933 Act. The Cork Tramways (Employees Compensation) Advisory Committee met in December 1933 and were photographed by the Cork Examiner at their work in the Labour Exchange. The committee consisted of: E. O’Brien (ESB representative), J. Hurley TC, Alderman Seán French (Lord Mayor of Cork), and F. G. Bennett (Department of Industry and Commerce), who acted as secretary to the committee.

Alfred O’Rahilly in 1933 was Professor of Mathematical Physics, 1917–43 and also Registrar, 1920–43 (he was later President of UCC from 1943 to 1954). From 1923 he was Chairman of the Cork Arbitration Board, where he was prominent in the settlement of industrial disputes. It is likely that it was in this latter role that he was active on behalf of some of the tramway men, for in return they presented him with 'The Tramway Cup’ in 1933.



‘The electric tramways of Cork, Ireland’, Street Railway Review, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Jan. 15 1899), 5-9; online 

‘Compensation for Cork tram workers. The closing down of the tramway services. Request to Minister’, Evening Echo, 25 September 1931, 5

‘Compensation Bill. Mixed views of ex-Cork Tramway Co’s employees’, Cork Examiner, 2 June 1933, 6

‘Cork Tramway employees. Compensation Bill. Second reading in Senate’, Evening Echo, 26 July 1933, 6

Advertisement, ‘Cork Tramways (Employees Compensation) Act, 1933. Applications for Compensation’, Cork Examiner, 23 September 1933, 5

Photograph: ‘The Cork Tramways (Employees Compensation) Advisory Committee’, Cork Examiner, 14 December 1933, 3

Electricity Supply Board, Seventh annual report of the Electricity Supply Board, year ended 31st March, 1934 (Dublin, 1934)

Walter McGrath, ‘The tramways of Cork’, The Tramway Review, Vol. 2, No. 12 (1953)

R. A. S. Redmayne, revised by Albert Snow. ‘Charles Hesterman Merz (1874-1840)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)

Saorstát Éireann, Appropriation Accounts 1933-34 (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1935): p.xxi, Vote 57. Railways. Compensation to certain former employees of the Cork Electric Supply Co., Ltd.


Further reading

W. McGrath, Tram tracks through Cork (Cork, 1981)

C. H. Merz papers: 1936: volume of autobiographical notes, Institution of Mechanical Engineers Archive, IMS/334, NRA 41354 Institution; 1936: notes for a memoir, Newcastle University: Special Collections, Misc Mss/81, NRA 43027 Newcastle University.

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